The time has come. I have to write my stupidity column.

I used to refer to it as “that column about stupid people I’m going to write someday.” Rooted in the Tea Party movement’s emergence way back in 2009, it was to be my personal lament over the rising tide of uninformed, unfiltered and entirely unhinged political speech – some from the left, but way more from the right – that has grown to ensnarl our public square.

But recent years have shown that calling wide swaths of people names only hardens their position – it even becomes their badge of honor. Thus, I won’t be writing about stupid people today.

This is about people afflicted with stupidity.

State Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, comes to mind. Sampson turned many a head Tuesday while speaking at an anti-COVID-19 vaccine rally outside the State House. The protest focused on Gov. Janet Mills’ recent mandate that all Maine health workers be vaccinated by Oct. 1, a more-than-reasonable requirement given their high risk of contracting and spreading the dreaded virus.

Sampson, however, didn’t just rebut the governor. As reported by Maine Public’s Steve Mistler, she called Mills a Nazi.

“Do I need to remind you of the late 1930s and into the ’40s in Germany? And the experiments with Josef Mengele? What was it? A shot!” she told the crowd. “And these were crimes against humanity. And what came out of that? The Nuremberg Code!

Her audience, recognizing a dog whistle when they heard one, hollered and clapped. But Sampson wasn’t done. Not by a long shot.

“Informed consent is at the top” of the post-World War II ethical treatise, Sampson continued. “And … violating that is punishable by death. So, we have Josef Mengele and Joseph Goebbels being reincarnated here in the state of Maine. I’ll let you figure out who’s in what role, but … we probably have two by the same last name.”

As in Gov. Mills and her sister, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, who once led Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention and now serves as chief health improvement officer for the hospital network MaineHealth.

“One is the governor. The other one is also a Mills. Just connect the dots!” Sampson exhorted.

More hooting. More hollering. More stupidity.

Stupidity, I’ve come to believe, isn’t a birthright. It’s a decision. We can soak up information, however untrue, that fortifies our world view, or we can test it against reality. We can hit the “like” button like one of Pavlov’s dogs, or, just to be safe, we can do a quick fact check.

Heidi Sampson, I suspect, is no dummy. Yet she chose to sound stupid on Tuesday because, political animal that she is, she knew that crowd would lap it up and keep asking for more.

Why? Because they’re not interested in facts. Or the truth about the vaccine. Only the self-validation that comes with basking in a pool of conspiracies with others who put grievance ahead of gravity, gaucheness ahead of grace.

Sampson was by no means alone in feeding that frenzy. According to the Maine Beacon, Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, called the anti-vax movement a “war.”

“When you win this war you can tell your kids and grandkids you fought for them,” Libby told the crowd. “We must stand together. It will take every one of us.”

To do what? Preserve our God-given right to get sick and die? And in the process take others with us?

With each outbreak, each hospitalization, each death, people like Sampson and Libby have blood on their hands. Sworn to “promote our common welfare,” as the Maine Constitution puts it, they pivot toward their own aggrandizement – the health and welfare of their communities be damned.

You want willful blindness? Witness the attendance at the rally of Rep. Chris Johansen, R-Monticello.

One of seven Republican lawmakers who loudly refused to wear masks earlier in this year’s legislative session, Johansen came down with COVID-19 last month. So did his wife, Cindy, an officer with the Aroostook County Republican Committee and a vocal vaccine opponent on her Facebook page.

Cindy Johansen, after being admitted to the hospital for treatment of COVID-19, died this month. Her last Facebook post showed a beautiful sunset along with the words, “You have no idea how much I miss this…”

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and other news organizations have tried repeatedly in recent days to contact Chris Johansen, to no avail. Yet there he was last week, in a photo posted on Twitter by freelance writer Crash Barry, strolling through the crowd without a mask while speaker after speaker denounced the scientific miracle that could have prevented his and his late wife’s illnesses.

As I noted earlier, stupidity can spread in every direction. Both Johansens’ Facebook pages now bristle with vicious messages from strangers who choose to celebrate Cindy Johansen’s death rather than recognize that any COVID-19 death is tragic, that a life lost is cause for mourning, not merriment.

Still, beyond his personal misfortune, Chris Johansen is an elected public official. What he says and does, at least in his neck of the woods, matters. People take their cues from him.

Would anyone blame Johansen if he stayed out of sight, grieved his loss and continued to decline all those media calls? Of course not.

But by showing up at a rally that will only make more people sick and trigger more untimely deaths, did he miss a golden opportunity to turn a personal tragedy into a much-needed cautionary tale? The sad answer is yes.

I’m not out to bash Chris Johansen. Publicly or not, he must now live with the consequences of his beliefs and actions just like anyone else who keeps saying it won’t happen to them until, just like that, it does.

But I’m beyond disgusted with those whose first reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic is not, “How can I help save the world?” but rather, “How can I turn this thing to my advantage?”

I’m looking at you, Heidi Sampson, Laurel Libby and other Republican lawmakers who filled the air in Augusta with dangerous nonsense last week. And I’m looking at you, too, Dr. Christiane Northrup of Yarmouth and all the others who have betrayed their medical training and ethics for the feel-good prescription of fame and fortune.

You’re not stupid people. You wouldn’t be where you are without some intelligence, some knack for persuasion, some appreciation for the greater good.

Please, for the sake of all that you – and the rest of us – hold dear, smarten up.


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